Episode 15: “This Solitary Shore”

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CONTENT WARNING: Aquaphobia, discussions of death and drowning (including child death), some loud noises, despair, paranoia, small town decline and collapse, depictions of a natural disaster, mention of drug use, some strong language

Tape 3-7-24-4-14: Roaming the abandoned streets of a newly-made ghost town, Anna Sheridan reflects on the relationship between place and person, past and present, and the resilience – and futility – of the human spirit.

Starring Airen Neeley Chaconas as Anna Sheridan, Jesse Steele as Bill Tyler, and Trevor Van Winkle as Sam Bailey, with original music by Jesse Haugen.

Written and produced by Trevor Van Winkle, and made possible by our supports at patreon.com/homesteadcorner

For more information and additional content, visit thesheridantapes.com

 

Script

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Transcript

CONTENT WARNINGS: Aquaphobia, discussions of death and drowning (including child death), some loud noises, despair, paranoia, small town decline and collapse, depictions of a natural disaster, mention of drug use, some strong language

Cold Open

[Cassette player motor whirs, stops]

[Main Theme]

Recording Begins

[Keyboard keys clacking]

[Beep]

[Rummaging through cassette tapes]

Sam Bailey

[Sighs]

Okay, so now the last four tapes have all been a bust: just old mixtapes and more first drafts from Anna, as far as I can tell. Even one that was just her reading poetry to the recorder, for some reason.

[Sighs]

It’s been a while since I’ve had this many duds in a row, but hopefully this one’s a bit better.

[Pull cassette out of cast]

Tape number 3-7-24-4-14, recorded April 17th, 2019 at 2…

[Door opens suddenly]

Oh, JESUS Bill! Don’t sneak up on me like that!

Bill Tyler

Sorry, I didn’t mean to… I didn’t think anyone was in here.

Why are the lights off?

Sam Bailey

Oh. I just… I guess I forgot to turn them on. Didn’t notice how dark it was in here.

Bill Tyler

How long have you been here?

Sam Bailey

Sorry?

Bill Tyler

I did tell you we had the rest of the day off, right?

Sam Bailey

Uh… Yeah, I think you did.

Bill Tyler

And…

Sam Bailey

And?

Bill Tyler

And did you go home? At all?

Sam Bailey

Oh. Uh, well… Strictly speaking… No.

Did you?

Bill Tyler

For a while. I – I couldn’t get to sleep, so I… I figured I’d come in early.

Sam Bailey

[Scoffs]

I know that feeling.

[Bill’s footsteps]

Bill Tyler

Hey, what’s this?

Sam Bailey

Huh? Oh, that? Um, just my attempt to — put this all together. Make sense of it.

[Paper shuffles]

Bill Tyler

“Encounter with ‘The echo.’ May 14th, 2009 – Greenbank Radio Observatory, West Virginia.” What…

[Paper shuffles]

What’s this number?

Sam Bailey

It’s, uh… That’s how Sheridan labeled the tapes. I’m still trying to figure out what they mean.

[Paper flips]

Bill Tyler

“Encounter with… ‘the wild hunt?’ Date unknown, location unknown, tape number 3-1-10-6-6?” I thought you didn’t believe what was on the tapes?

Sam Bailey

I…!

[Breathes]

I don’t. It’s just — well, they’re all I have to go on right now. Whether what’s on them is real or not… they’re my only lead.

Bill Tyler

Huh.

Sam Bailey

Listen… Please don’t tell anyone about this?

Bill Tyler

Me? Spread gossip? Never!

Sam Bailey

Ugh, Bill!

Bill Tyler

[Laughing].

Sam! You really need to learn to take a joke. Trust me: no one’s going to hear about your… crazy wall.

Sam Bailey

[Sighs with relief]

Thank you.

Did you need something in here?

Bill Tyler

What?

Sam Bailey

If you weren’t coming in here to see me, then what were you…

Bill Tyler

Right! Right, I was, I was just, um — can I borrow your… your stapler? Mine’s broken again.

[Footsteps]

Sam Bailey

Oh, uh… sure, here.

[Pulls out desk drawer]

[Hands over stapler]

Bill Tyler

Great, uh… you heading home soon?

Sam Bailey

Are you?

Bill Tyler

Look — try to get some sleep, okay Sam? You look even worse than usual.

Sam Bailey

[Scoffs]

Jeeze, thanks for that…

Bill Tyler

No, I’m serious, you – you look like hell.

Sam Bailey

[Sighs]

Trust me, going home won’t help.

I’m fine, Bill, just — one more tape, and then I’ll go.

Bill Tyler

If… You say so.

[Footsteps]

[Door opens, then closes]

Sam Bailey

[Sighs]

As I was saying: recorded on April 17th at 2:40am, Detective Samuel Bailey, Oslow County Police Department, Homicide division.

[He slips the tape into the player]

[Click]

Tape 3-7-24-4-14

[Hiss of static, then fades]

[Sounds of light rain]

[Footsteps over wet asphalt]

[Footsteps stop]

Anna Sheridan

There’s something… Deeply unnerving about ghost towns. It’s not just the empty, decaying ruins of old buildings, but that’s certainly part of it. And it’s not the thought that they might actually be haunted — I’ve visited more than a hundred and never found any evidence to suggest that “Ghost Town” is more than a snappy moniker. No: they’re unnerving because they’re wrong.

[Footsteps resume]

It’s impossible to ignore the feeling when you’re walking through. No matter how long ago it was abandoned, or how much it’s fallen apart, you still feel the presence of the people who lived here. Even if their souls aren’t trapped here, the memory of them is: the imprint of their lives, written on every inch of this empty, lifeless place.

[Footsteps stop]

Look one way and you’ll see a child’s doll, tossed aside in the rush to leave town. Did they carry it with them when they walked to school each day? Did it have a name? A personality? What did this doll mean to that child? And what did that child mean to this town?

[Footsteps resume, then stop]

Look the other way, and you’ll see the husk of a car, stripped for parts and left with nothing but its bones, slowly rusting away. Whose car was that? What did they do here? What were their hopes, their dreams? It’s impossible to say now, but that car still belongs to this place, long after this place has ceased to belong to anyone.

[Footsteps resume]

But that’s the thing about places like this: you can feel that once, not so long ago, people lived and worked and died here, feeling like they had some ownership of this place — or perhaps, that this place had some kind of ownership of them.

[Footsteps stop, then resume]

I know how that goes. Small towns like this… They keep a kind of hold on you, even once you’ve left them for good. Most of the time you can forget about it if you really try, pretend like you’ve never belonged anywhere… But every time you think back, even for a second, you realize that you never really left home. Not completely.

[Footsteps stop]

Try as you might to cut ties and move on, you leave a piece of yourself there when you go, and carry a piece of it out into the world wherever you end up.

[Footsteps resume]

Even if there aren’t any real ghosts here, there’s certainly a lot of memory in this place.

[Footsteps stop]

Memory, and grief.

[Footsteps resume, then stop after a moment]

A decade ago, this was the busiest street in downtown. In the middle of summer, it would be lined with cars from the highway to the marina as tourists tried desperately to find somewhere to park. The lake was full of swimmers, pontoon boats, and kayaks by 9am every day. On the weekends, every hotel in town was full, and the few small restaurants were pushed to capacity trying to feed their visitors. The people who lived there full time complained, of course. They didn’t move to a small town to be inundated with noisy, rude tourists. But everyone who lived here knew the truth, even if they couldn’t admit it. The town only existed because of the lake, and the hordes of tourists made their way of life possible. So they grumbled, but otherwise did nothing.

[Footsteps resume, then stop after a moment]

The town was always small and self-isolated: always the odd one out when it came to local politics. It wasn’t the only small town in the region — not by a long shot. But the others had industry, gambling, and the ever-expanding business of bureaucracy to keep them profitable. But this place? It stayed small, and grew smaller with every passing year as the cost of living rose and what little land the town had was sold off to developers looking to make a quick buck, not feed and house its workforce.

The town hung on for a while, but eventually the county ran into the age old problem of “not enough.” Not enough power, not enough water, and not enough money to bring it from somewhere else. The lake was huge, sure, but it was the brackish and saline water of the great basin. It could be purified, true — but again, it would cost the county too much, and only get more expensive with each passing year. Its source, however, was only a few miles north, and as pure as anything they could possibly hope for. So, in a public meeting given to a mostly empty conference hall, one of the county commissioners put forward a motion: to build a hydroelectric dam and reservoir to provide power and light to the rest of the county and divert some of the water to a purification plant downstream. It might, she admitted, result in a slight drop in the water levels of the lake, but what was a small decrease in tourism compared to the future of the county?

[Footsteps resume, then stop after a moment]

The measure passed unanimously and without further comment. A public scoping period opened the next week, and closed two months later with no objections. By the time anyone in the little town realized what was happening, the foundations had already been laid, the contractors had been hired, and the project had been approved by every relevant agency. The lake would be dammed, and the town with it.

[Footsteps resume, then stop after a moment]

To be fair, the mayor did try to challenge the project. The town hired consultants to figure out just how much income would be lost for every gallon of water the dam diverted. Local conservation groups organized petitions, collecting thousands of signatures from the tourists who passed through — though a suspiciously small number of locals put their names forward to protest the dam. By the time the town had enough of a leg to stand on, nearly a year had passed. Even so, they filed suit in county court, claiming that the dam would bring disaster to their community.

[Footsteps resume, then stop after a moment]

The case was dismissed within a week. The Arrowhead Dam project had been open for comment for two months, and their silence during that period was enough to indicate their acceptance. A few local organizations tried to stage protests and raise enough hell to get someone’s attention… But they were still a small town in a small, rural area, and this was long before the internet might have given them a voice. No one outside the town really seemed to notice, and very few inside of it really seemed to care. Honestly, most of them were secretly glad there might be fewer tourists next season. And so, after five years of fighting the useless fight, the final pieces of the dam were put in place on a cold afternoon in mid-February. Water and power began to flow to the bigger cities surrounding the little town… But not to the town itself. After all the nuisance they caused during construction, the department of water and power made sure their pipes and powerlines were disconnected from the county system.

[Footsteps resume, then stop after a moment]

When summer rolled around again, some people did notice that the lake was a bit lower than usual. But the same number of tourists showed up in May, and the locals laughed off the town’s projections of economic ruin as simple fear mongering. After all, there were still just as many cars on main street as before, and to them, that meant their town was safe, and always would be.

By the end of August, the lake was less than half its usual size. No one panicked, of course. Most people remembered — or at least, thought they remembered — the water level getting that low in the past. But the summer heat continued long into September and October, and the few who realized what was happening tried to warn the others. They showed up at empty town council meetings with stacks of charts and figures, called in to the local radio station to try and get on the air, and generally shouted the words no one wanted to hear from whatever platform they could. The lake was evaporating, and with almost no water coming in from the dam, it would dry out permanently within the year.

[Footsteps resume]

Small towns are resilient — but that also means they’re stubborn. No one wanted to believe that their livelihood was about to disappear, and so they ignored the warnings and carried on with business as usual. So after a late, harsh winter that froze what little water was left, the tourists showed up on the first weekend of May expecting to find the lake untouched.

[Footsteps transition from wet asphalt to wooden planks, then stop]

Instead, they found a marina standing on stilts, perched five feet above a wide, cracked salt flat and a small pool of muddy, noxious water nearly half a mile from the old shoreline. Even that evaporated after a few weeks in the merciless Nevada sun, and with it, the tourism industry. A few businesses tried to pivot… But it was too little too late.

[Footsteps resume, returning to the asphalt]

The town all but imploded after that, but a place like this — a place that people belong to — doesn’t just dry up and disappear like a lake. So the community limped along for years, surrounded by the rotting shells of its former opulence: abandoned condo blocks and empty resorts covered in bright murals of the dead lake beyond, slowly fading and rotting away. But even with the water dammed and stolen, the people remained.

[Footsteps stop]

The mayor did manage to slow the town’s decline after a few years, transforming much of its infrastructure to make it a waystation for travelers on US Route 50: “the loneliest road in America.” Within a few years, the town had recovered enough to stabilize — but it would never grow back to its former size. Its wings had been clipped, its roots cut out and burned. The glory days were over, and those who remained had to live with the memory of all that used to be and all that could have been.

[Footsteps resume]

This is the story of so many towns like this. The specifics are unique to each one, but it’s almost always the same: boom, then bust, and then a long, steady decline. New generations grow up with fewer and fewer happy memories of the place they were born, and those who remain there grow more and more bitter with each passing year.

[Footsteps stop]

Soon, even those driving by on the highway begin to wonder how and why that little town is still there, and if anyone even lives there anymore. Before the town becomes a ghost, it becomes a zombie: shambling forward with no greater vision or purpose than to stay alive. And like all undead, it feeds on those who live there.

[Footsteps resume, then stop after a moment]

No matter how fervently those old locals swear that they love the peace and quiet of their home, they feel the same impatience, frustration, and impotence of the teenagers who can’t wait to leave as soon as they turn 18. Some of them make it, but a part of their soul is still attached to their home, and sooner or later they begin to feel the tender pull of nostalgia for the simpler, quieter world of their childhood. It might take twenty or thirty years for that feeling to really get its claws into them, but sooner or later, most of them return, if only for a little while. Some escape again. Others don’t. And some never leave, getting more bitter with every year that passes and brings no visible change but the slow decay of time.

[Desolate gust of wind]

[Footsteps resume]

For a while, this place wasn’t any different. The economy stagnated, the population shrank, and for nearly 20 years after the lake evaporated, it clung to life out of stubborn refusal to die. But about a year ago, something terrible happened — something unimaginable.

[Footsteps stop]

A child drowned. Not in a pool or in the bathtub — not even in the stagnant puddle that still collects in the middle of the lakebed. He was on a school trip, collecting agates on the salt flat when he wandered out of sight of the teacher. By the time they noticed he was missing, it was too late. The police finally found him later in the day, lying face down and motionless on the lakebed. The autopsy said that he’d somehow drowned on salt water, despite the fact that he was found more than a mile from any water at all. His death sent a shockwave through the community — everyone knew his family, and whether they liked them or not, they felt the loss almost as strongly as his parents did.

Even so, towns like this are resilient. The memory lingers, of course, but it quickly becomes just another part of a long history of loss. Within a month, life had returned to normal — but then, four teenagers from a nearby town were found drowned in their car on the salt flat, and it started all over again. Only this time, it wasn’t just grief that ran through the town: it was outrage, fear, and paranoia. One impossible drowning could be chalked up as an accident. Five in two months couldn’t, and the town quickly decided that there was a serial killer in their midst. That month’s town hall was the biggest in decades, packed with angry, frightened parents demanding that the police department do something. The investigation was redoubled, but they were used to dealing with parking violations and teenagers smoking outside the supermarket. They tried their best, but less than two weeks later, one of their officers was found dead, with salt water in his lungs. The situation was clearly spiraling out of control — at least, according to the county. So, they sent a team of detectives to put a stop to the killings as quickly as possible. They swaggered into town with a fully formed theory, pinning the killings on a stranger who disappeared from the local hospital earlier that year. Within a month, all four of them were found dead on the salt pan.

Panic began to set in at that point, and those with the means quickly found excuses to leave town for good. The population shrank even as the killings seemed to stop and a record-setting rainstorm locked in over town, filling the lake to its highest point in years. But when the storm finally let up, the body of the stranger the detectives were looking for was found in a dumpster behind the supermarket. No one was sure if he’d drowned or been murdered by someone seeking justice for the dead, but his lungs were empty, and the coroner concluded that he’d died of shock. Whatever the case, the mass exodus began to slow. People thought that maybe, just maybe the killer had been found and stopped by vigilante justice, and the nightmare was over. That optimism lasted about two weeks, before a local bartender was found drowned near the edge of town. He was a local favorite, a pillar of what little community still remained. But what was even worse was the fact that the way he fell made it look like he’d been running away from someone — or something — when he died.

His death finally took away whatever excuses still remained to stay, and within a week the town’s population dropped from 50 to 1. As far as I can tell, the only person left is one last police detective, still trying to find an answer.

[Footsteps resume]

That was nearly a month ago. Strictly speaking, the town doesn’t exist anymore — without anyone in charge, it’s been downgraded to an “unincorporated community…” A nice way of saying the county doesn’t consider it a real place anymore. If they ever did.

[Footsteps stop]

I don’t know if that detective is still here. I’m standing across from the police station, and it certainly looks abandoned. There are no lights on, and all the windows are tightly boarded up. The plywood over the door looks loose though, as if someone’s been here recently.

It’s strange to see it like this. This town hung on through twenty years of poverty and slow decay, but died less than a year after the impossible touched it. And make no mistake: it was the impossible that did this. Because there have always been stories about this place: first about the lake, then the town, and then the people in it. In fact, the whole county seems to be a paranormal hot spot. Santa Lucia’s only a few miles west of here, and we all know how many ghosts that place has. There are plenty of rumors about Oslow as well, but I’ve never been able to confirm any of them. But as far as anyone knows, there has always been something in the waters of Agate Shore.

[Clack and clatter as tape ejects]

Tape Paused

Sam Bailey

[Heavy, panicked breathing]

That’s… No, no, she was…

[Catches his breath, exhales to calm himself]

[Sits back in chair]

Sheridan was in Agate Shore. Which means… This tape must be from before — October 16. Which means… She recorded this just before she disappeared.

How… How did I miss that?

[Click]

Tape Resumes

[Hiss of static, then fades]

[Footsteps over wet asphalt]

Anna Sheridan

The lake gave the town life — but everyone who lived here knew the lake took it away as well. The number of drownings each year was significantly higher than the national average, and there were plenty of stories of people hearing voices when they went out swimming alone. Voices that asked them questions and spoke to them in riddles. And even after the lake was drained, the people who lived here still heard that voice on cold winter nights when the fog seeped out of the old lakebed and rolled over the town.

[Footsteps stop]

Across the decades, that voice has always been here — and the question has always been the same.

[Faint, crackling static rises]

What would you do to save yourself?

I’ve heard that question before — when I almost drowned up in Tahoe, on that last trip with Maria. And there are records of that exact same question all over the world, in dozens of languages and across hundreds of years: all connected with water.

[Thunder rumbles in the distance]

Lakes, rivers, streams, wells — people drowning, and being offered a chance to save themselves at some terrible cost. I don’t know if it’s the same entity in all the stories, or just some similar one. But this is a place of power. I’ve been looking for somewhere like this for a long time: somewhere isolated and with a strong connection to…

[A low, heavy explosion echoes in the distance]

Oh my god. The, um… The dam just…

[A second, louder explosion in the distance]

[Anna turns and runs]

[Low rumbling, rolling noise rises behind her]

[Rumbling grows louder, structures crackling as they shatter]

[Click]

[Silence]

[Click]

[Sound of a car engine]

Anna Sheridan

Okay. Okay. We got away. We’re okay. That… Shit. I — I guess you didn’t see that, but… The dam. The dam up at Arrowhead — the one that drained the lake. It just… Broke. There… There definitely wasn’t anyone in town besides me, so I don’t think anyone got caught in the flood, but I barely got to the van in time to get out of the way.

[Anna turns in her seat]

God… The whole town is just… Gone. Washed away. God, I hope no one was between the dam and the lake when it…

[Police siren starts behind her]

What the — Oh, shit. Great. Oslow PD. This isn’t going to be easy to explain.

[Tires crunch gravel as she pulls over]

[Keys rattle, engine stops]

[Police car’s door opens in distance]

[Footsteps approach]

[Anna rolls down her window]

LT. De Witt

License and registration, miss.

Anna Sheridan

Right. Of course. Got it around here somewhere, I’m sure…

LT. De Witt

Hands where I can see them, please.

Anna Sheridan

Well do you want me to get my registration, or do you want me to keep my hands on the wheel? Cause I can’t do both.

LT. De Witt

Are you giving me attitude, miss?

Anna Sheridan

Of course not, officer.

LT. De Witt

Well then — license and registration, please.

Anna Sheridan

Can I at least get it out of the glovebox, then?

[De Witt takes a step forward]

LT. De Witt

Is… Is that a recording device, miss?

Anna Sheridan

Oh, well yes it is. I was just running it before… Hey!

[Fabric rustling, sound of a scuffle]

LT. De Witt

Give me that recorder, now!

Anna Sheridan

What the hell are you doing? You…

[Anna’s scanner is bumped, and it begins going off loudly]

[Both stop moving]

Anna Sheridan

Holy shit.

LT. De Witt

Uh… Please give me that recorder miss, I’m terribly sorry about all this… OOF!

[Anna hits him, then starts the van]

[Tires squeal and engine roars as she drives away]

Anna Sheridan

Holy shit. He — that officer, he — he wasn’t human.

[Scanner continues to beep]

What the hell is this place?

[Clack and clatter as tape ejects]

Tape Ends

Sam Bailey

De Witt was in Oslow. All the way back in October. And he was still doing… Whatever he was trying to do when he pulled me over.

He must have been living somewhere in town… Or at least somewhere close. Maybe… I don’t know, but maybe there’s a chance I can find out where.

[Papers shuffle]

[Beep]

Recording Ends

[Tape player sounds]

[Click]

Field Recording – Sam Bailey 041719

[Early morning roadside, faint sounds of traffic]

Sam Bailey

Alright, it’s about… 5:30am now. It took a while, but I think I might have found him. There’s no one named De Witt in Oslow who matches his description, but there was a missing person’s report filed yesterday for a Mister Robert White. He was living here, in a halfway house just outside town, trying to beat a PCP addiction. If he is who I think he is, that would certainly explain some of De Witt’s behavior… If not how he managed to find an old intercepter or why they let him out in the first place.

[Sighs]

I’ve been waiting for nearly an hour for someone to turn a light on in there. I don’t want to roll in there without letting someone know, but…

[Heavy yawn]

Ah, screw it.

[Car door opens]

[Click]

[Silence]

[Click]

[Buzz of fluorescent lights]

[Muffled footsteps on carpet]

[Muffled voices behind doors]

Sam Bailey

Well — that was a bust. I thought it might be, but still…

[Sighs]

Robert White came back by himself late last night, but the counselors forgot to let anyone at the police station know. Wonderful. I wouldn’t be half as annoyed if it hadn’t taken me so long just to find someone to ask. God, no wonder they lost White in here — this place is a goddamn maze…

[Footsteps stop suddenly]

[Sam takes a slow step towards something]

That’s… No, that… It can’t be.

[Fabric rustles]

[Cell phone beeps, then dials]

Bill Tyler

[On phone]

Sam? Is that you?

Sam Bailey

Yeah, it’s me.

Bill Tyler

You finally decide to go home, or…

Sam Bailey

Listen Bill, please just do me a favor and shut up?

Bill Tyler

Jezze! Who pissed in your cornflakes?

Sam Bailey

Bill, this is important. It’s… it’s about Sheridan.

Bill Tyler

Um… Okay?

Sam Bailey

I’m going to send you a picture — I need you to tell me what you see, okay?

Bill Tyler

Why?

Sam Bailey

[Sighs]

Because I haven’t slept in days and I’m not sure I can trust what I’m seeing right now. Please.

Bill Tyler

Alright… go ahead and send it.

[Beep]

[Electronic chime, clicks as Sam texts]

[Electronic whoosh]

[Phone buzzes]

[Beep]

Sam Bailey

Well?

Bill Tyler

[On phone]

What do you think it says?

Sam Bailey

[Sighs]

Look, just tell me Bill.

Bill Tyler

It’s a nameplate for someone called “Amy Sterling.” I guess that must be her room. You didn’t think it said Anna Sheridan, did…?

[Beep]

[Sam steps forward, then knocks urgently on door]

Anna Sheridan

[Muffled, through door]

Yes? Who is it?

[Sam doesn’t answer]

[Footsteps from other side of door]

[Door swings open]

Anna Sheridan

Can I help you?

[Mic bumps as the recorder is dropped]

[Clack and clatter as tape ends]

End Field Recording


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